First, the Bible: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:12-15, KJV).
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, KJV).
Then the question: Considering recent Baptist-related pontifications regarding “women in the pulpit,” one might ask: “Why should Christian women keep silent when in church?”
Answer: “Because if they speak, God might think they are preaching!”
“My hermeneutical approaches are surely those of an unabashed egalitarian where women and pulpit are concerned.”
That revised standard question arises from certain dictums recently made public by the Reverend Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in response to an inquiry regarding women preachers during his “Ask Anything” podcast. In extended remarks on the subject, Mohler distinguishes between “egalitarian” approaches by which men and women share in the call to preach, and “complementarian” approaches that set divinely ordained “boundaries” regarding the role of men and women in home and church. He cites the Southern Baptist Convention’s confession of faith and the evangelical-based Danvers Statement (1988) as advocating, indeed requiring, complementarian biblical interpretations.
The manifesto notes that:
- Both Old and New Testaments also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community (Gen. 2:18; Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Tim. 2:11-15).
- Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse.
- In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7).
- In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15).
Mohler concludes: “If you look at the denominations where women do the preaching, they are also the denominations where people do the leaving. I think there’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice.” In his view, 1 Timothy, chapter 2, means that since Mother Eve “was in the transgression” in the Garden, “biblical authority” for the church’s preaching office must be measured by homiletical testosterone, males only.
Mohler is therefore an unabashed complementarian who has every right to apply that specific biblical interpretation (hermeneutic) as he chooses. (Ironically, his assertion about declines in women-ordaining denominations came the week Southern Baptists acknowledged their own enduring statistical deteriorations in membership and baptisms, reflecting the loss of over a million members in the last decade.)
“God hears any voice that preaches Jesus.”
My hermeneutical approaches are surely those of an unabashed egalitarian where women and pulpit are concerned, views Mohler might consider “hermeneutical oddities devised to reinterpret apparently plain meanings of Biblical texts,” as the Danvers Statement calls them. Truth is, a variety of “hermeneutical oddities” have enlightened and divided the church from the beginning, dueling texts that demand decision of all of us.
My own homiletical egalitarianism rests with texts like Romans 8:1: “There is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus….” In those words, all curses die, even the one 1 Timothy lays on Mother Eve and her OB-GYN descendants. For if women are too cursed to be called, they may be too cursed to be redeemed. Paul applied that radical declaration to the first-century church, often in the face of similar arguments about keeping Gentiles from entering the church without their becoming part of “the circumcision,” a bio-theological assertion apparently expanded with Christ’s resurrection! (See Colossians 2:11.)
The last thing I want to do is reengage in theological disputes with Al Mohler, who, if memory serves, was a student in at least one of my church history courses at Southern Seminary during my professorial tenure there, 1975 – 1992. He and I have been there, done that. Instead, I’ll defer to Jarena Lee, (1783 – ca. 1864), one of the first recorded African American female preachers in United States history.
In her autobiography, The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, A Coloured Lady, Giving an Account of her Call to Preach the Gospel (1836), Lee asked:
O how careful ought we to be, lest through our by-laws of church government and discipline, we bring into disrepute even the word of life. For as unseemly as it may appear now-a-days for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God. And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach? Seeing the Saviour died for the woman as well as the man.
Did not Mary [of Magdala] first preach the risen Saviour, and is not the doctrine of the resurrection the very climax of Christianity – hangs not all our hope on this, as argued by St. Paul? Then did not Mary, a woman, preach the gospel? For she preached the resurrection of the crucified Son of God.
“It’s not about testosterone; it’s about grace.”
The spiritual descendants of Jarena Lee continue that homiletical tradition. On May 9, 2019, “Woman’s Day” at our Winston-Salem congregation, I heard Reverend Sherine Thomas-Spight preach on Luke 8:26-39, the story of the Gadarene demoniac whom Jesus healed. Citing the man’s demon-inspired query, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” Thomas-Spight declared:
You see, when Jesus shows up it makes some folks uncomfortable. You know, sisters, there are some folks who just don’t like you because you carry the presence of Jesus with you. It doesn’t matter what you do, what you wear, what you say, they will always take issue with you because you carry the power of Jesus with you and it makes people uncomfortable because the darkness doesn’t like the light. But I challenge you today to keep coming around anyway.
Sister Jarena preaches still!
Across the years, women in my family, in my classes and in the church have taught me this: Christ’s gospel isn’t measured by biology or hierarchy, but by radical redemption. Joel 2:28 said what Simon Peter echoed (Acts 2:17): “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons, and your daughters shall prophecy.”
God hears any voice that preaches Jesus. It’s not about testosterone; it’s about grace.